Three To Watch: Sophomores

A number of rookies stepped into prominent roles for the Colts in 2007. Of the rookie class from last year, who will break out, who will bust out, and who will surprise? Brad Keller highlights three key players to watch.

Sophomore Most Likely to Have a Breakout Season:

After outpacing most rookie receivers in 2007 with 37 receptions for 576 yards and three touchdowns, it would be difficult to label Anthony Gonzalez as a "breakout" or "surprise," but his production in 2008 may surprise a number of people that believe Marvin Harrison's re-emergence will force Gonzalez into the shadows of statistical obscurity.

However, even if Harrison is able to put off-field distractions and a nagging knee injury aside and regain his Hall of Fame form, there is still a very valuable place in this offense for Gonzalez.


Anthony Gonzalez should make the Colts' offense even more dangerous in 2008
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If — and this is an "if" that is still very much in the air at this early point in the offseason — Harrison does not recover and begins the season inactive, Gonzalez will have had two full offseasons and a full season of work as the X receiver opposite Reggie Wayne.

He will able to step into this role confidently from the start of the 2008 regular season and produce, both in the short area on slants and screens running after the catch and vertically, catching deep balls over the top.

Even if Harrison steps back into his X role on the right side of Peyton Manning and never looks back, Gonzalez still has a tremendous opportunity when the Colts go to the shotgun with Harrison, Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Gonzalez as the skill players involved.

In this situation, Gonzalez will still be split out wide and allow Manning to attack all levels with two two-deep reads — Gonzalez and Wayne will run deep routes, Clark and Harrison will attack the intermediate middle, and Addai will be kept in to block or as a safety valve.

This will afford Manning and the Colts an opportunity to take advantage of whatever player is most open — unheard of outside of the 2007 Patriots — and Gonzalez will get more than his fair share of deep catches behind the secondary.

When the defense starts to sit back in soft zones 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, Gonzalez will play the role of Wes Welker, catching slip screens and quick slants in front of coverage and tearing defenses apart with his run-after-the-catch ability.

Interestingly enough, the best-case scenario for the Colts and Gonzalez will be if Harrison returns to the lineup unaffected by last season's injury.  Regardless, Gonzalez will be put in a position to succeed and he will.

Sophomore Most Likely to Suffer a Letdown: 

Although he filled in capably for the retired Tarik Glenn last season, Tony Ugoh still struggled with injuries and the ability to play the most important position on the offensive line, protecting Manning's blind side.

Early in 2007, the Colts intentionally ran away from Ugoh's side in an attempt to protect him.  Throughout the course of the season, they rolled protection to his side and attempted to conceal a possible weakness against the other team's best pass rusher.


Tony Ugoh still has a lot to prove as an NFL left tackle
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In his defense, Ugoh came out of 2007 mostly unscathed and, by all accounts, is working hard to improve his game in anticipation of the 2008 season.

But, the fact remains that he still may not be ready to carry the immense responsibility that comes with being a player at his position.

In addition, every NFL team has had the ability to study the film on him from last season and, leave no doubt, defensive ends around the league are working to exploit any and all weaknesses that they can find.

Every defensive coordinator in the league knows that you pressure Peyton Manning up the middle, but you sack him — and force him to cough up the ball — by attacking him from the outside.  If defenses try to attack the edges of the Colts offensive line in 2008, they may find more than their fair share of success.

Sophomore Most Likely Not to Make the Opening Day Roster:

There is the possibility that, given his late selection in the 2007 draft, Keyunta Dawson may not be kept on the roster.  However, since he's far too valuable as a pass rusher, he will be kept.  Michael Coe may be cut due to the fact that he saw limited time due to injuries last year, but the sense here is that the coaching staff still wants to see what he can do.

Quinn Pitcock may be on the outside looking in, given that he was unable to force his way into the rotation, but, given the fact that he can play both tackle positions, he has, for the moment, secured his roster spot.

The player that has surrounded himself in speculation — especially given the potential of undrafted free agent Brandon Foster — is Dante Hughes.  Since he failed to establish himself last season and, since he is a former third-round selection, expectations are high.  He needs to live up to them.


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